Ceiba pentandra is a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae (previously separated in the family Bombacaceae), native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and (as the variety C. pentandra var. guineensis) to tropical west Africa. Kapok is the most used common name for the tree and may also refer to the fibre obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, Silk cotton or ceiba. It is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.
The tree grows to 60–70 m (200–230 ft) tall and has a very substantial trunk up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are often (but not always) crowded with very large, robust simple thorns. The leaves are compound of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (8 in) and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred 15 cm (6 in) seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fibre that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.
A pressed seed oil can be derived from the seeds of the kapok tree. The oil has a yellow colour and a pleasant, mild odour and taste. It has similar characteristics to cottonseed oil. It becomes rancid quickly when exposed to air. Kapok oil is produced in India, Indonesia and Malaysia. It has an iodine value of 85-100, which makes it a nondrying oil. This means that it does not dry out significantly when exposed to the air. Kapok oil has some potential as a biofuel and in paint preparation.